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The Church in North Africa
09/12/2011 Sahara

Fr. Mario LEÓN, as Apostolic Administrator in Western Sahara, was recently in Tunisia for the meeting of the CERNA (Episcopal Conference of the Bishops of North Africa). The meeting was held on November 12-17 in Tunis, the capital, in the house of diocesan bishop of that city.

There were four bishops from Algeria with their four vicars, one from Tunisia with his vicar, two from Libya and one vicar, two from Morocco with two vicars, the bishop of Mauritania, the secretary of CERNA who is a priest from Casablanca and Fr. Mario.

The bishops are all foreigners (which reflects the reality of the Churches since all the Christians are foreigners). One bishop is Jordanian; another is Palestinian; then there are French, Spanish, and Germans, all of whom have been in these countries for years. Many were even born in these countries and have a lot of experience. The Churches of North Africa are simple, humble and even poor in resources, although they conduct schools, cultural and aid centers (especially for immigrants), libraries, but with fewer and fewer members: men and women religious, priests. This is the great challenge and hardship they now face: the diminishment of vocations in the Churches of Europe from which, a short time ago, they received help. More and more priests and religious men and women are coming from Africa, Latin America or Asia.

It was very interesting to listen to the testimony of the bishops and see what is happening in their countries and how their respective Churches are experiencing different changes, especially in Libya, but also in Tunisia itself. There were even tanks in the streets, but the people seemed content.

One bishop would say: “How beautiful freedom is!” They also held a press conference at the end of the CERNA meeting, something unheard of in North Africa.

It is interesting to see how the Church in Algeria is doing: they have a problem with visas. For the past three years, Algeria has not given a single worker’s visa for religious men and women or for priests. We can go to visit, but not to work in a church. For this reason, they are slowly suffocating. All of the dioceses have 2-3 or more priests, religious men or women awaiting permission to enter and settle down, and the average age is ever increasing!

In Morocco, there’s not much going on; changes are happening, but very slowly.

It seems that things are finally calming down in Libya. The Christians, mostly foreigners, in the country for work, do not yet dare to go, but the country needs them because now is the time to rebuild. The bishops told of amazing experiences. They were assaulted more than seven times; their homes were robbed; people with guns followed them when they went out in their cars. It was the law of the jungle there. It seems that all families had guns in the house, but not so many priests. Of course, they were easy victims. More than once, neighbors, hearing their screams, came out to defend them. But it was not a religious issue – it was robbery. They stole their cars, televisions, computers, clothing, furniture – everything – incredible! They have given a simply amazing witness.

Fr. Mario acknowledges: “The truth is that, in all this, I have been a witness, simply watching. I speak very little in the meetings, but I really learn a lot.”